Saturday 14 December 2019

Water action needed for vulnerable groups

Something must be done about vulnerable people in relation to water charges
Something must be done about vulnerable people in relation to water charges


WE'VE known for some time that water charges were coming into force. When the troika arrived in November 2010, a condition of drawing down loans to bail-out our banks and run the country included a requirement to introduce domestic billing.

And while the focus on Government in the initial years was in figuring out how the system would operate, there was always going to be the issue of dealing with vulnerable customers - both those in dire financial straits, and those with medical conditions which required the use of large volumes of water. While the issue of low-income households has been decided, it now appears that medical conditions which allow families to benefit from a capped or maximum bill have not been identified.

However, thousands of people do not know if they qualify for assistance - despite months of consultation between the Department of the Environment and Department of Health and, presumably, the HSE. Many of these people will be reluctant to state they do, for fear that their ailment is not sufficiently serious and that declaring it may pose a problem at a later stage. It's not as if these conditions are mysterious and only affect a small proportion of the population.

On the other hand the 'honour' system, whereby you have to simply tick a box to get a capped bill, will almost inevitably be abused by some.

Had the Government looked to Britain they could have found such a list readily available. British water companies operate WaterSure, a scheme for vulnerable customers which sets out a number of conditions. They include eczema, incontinence, Crohn's disease or renal failure, which requires home dialysis.

It seems now that the Government has decided to kick the can down the road for two years, when a new pricing structure is introduced. It's simply not good enough. There may be a tacit acceptance that people must pay for their water, but bringing those people on board requires clarity, simplicity and clear guidelines. Families may get the message that our network requires investment to bring it up to 21st century standards. The coalition has failed to bring those best practice standards to bear when it comes to the simple matter of helping the most vulnerable cope.

Irish Independent

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